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I have seen an answer on SE site from a moderator election candidate that mentioned something which seems unusual - the idea that, if elected, one of the approaches the candidate would take would be to try to resolve some of the possible site issues/conflicts by mediating.

Is that considered a good idea/role for a moderator by experts in community building?

For the purposes of this question I'm defining "mediator" role as a 3rd party who discusses the issue with both sides of the conflict and attempts to resolve it with as minimum friction/losses as possible, ideally amicably, based on the input of both parties.

Just to clarify - the scope of this question involves only the situations where a moderator is truly an uninvolved third party - not a part of the conflict yet. Also, I'm making an assumption that amicable conflict resolution is something that is desirable to the community (which is an assumption I'm open to being challenged).

Anecdotally, I have seen this approach work very well - both as a mediator and as conflict party. Presumably, this is because in many cases the conflicts arise due to miscommunication and a mediation by a neutral 3rd party frequently help address miscommunication in a situation where 2 parties aren't inclined to make an effort to listen to one another for obvious reasons. However, I only saw this stated as an idea by one candidate, ever, and never seen it actually practiced by SE moderators in any venue I was privy to.

TL;DR: it seems like a good idea but observably a rare one. This leads me to suspect it has downsides I'm not aware of.

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  • Are you looking for an answer in the context of Stack Exchange, or in any community in general? – user35 Feb 3 '16 at 3:34
  • @Emrakul - if the answers differ, then ideally both. SE specific answer is slightly preferential as SE is what I'm used to most. – DVK Feb 3 '16 at 3:40
  • Moderators are usually not 3rd parties, in cases that would need mediation they often have to intervene anyway in some form. – user21 Feb 3 '16 at 22:26
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    @mad I don't have statistics to dispute "usually" but anecdotally I can cite numerous instances of cases where moderators were not a party to initial causal disagreement. However in many cases when they got involved it was decidedly in not a mediator role (either in punitive, or frequently merely observing) – DVK Feb 3 '16 at 22:31
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Generally speaking, a moderator is not an independent, unbiased third party. They are a person with a high level of access entrusted to foster and protect the community for the good of the community.

In issues of conflict, a moderator, doing her proper duty, should consider what's best for the community first. That may or may not be to the benefit of one or both conflicted parties. And if the conflict is between one party and the staff of the community, then obviously being a moderator should put them on the side of the community.

In many professionally run communities, there is a "community manager" role, which is different from a moderator. Where a moderator has a high level of access, the community manager is tasked with fostering membership. Now ideally, a community manager will help curtail conflicts within the community before they happen or become serious. This might involve a light level of mediation. The community manager might also be recommending to the moderators or admins to reduce or remove someone's membership -- this also isn't a true independent mediator, just someone whose role puts trust among the general membership in importance.

Now, I can imagine that if this is a community that actually sees frequent conflict. For example, perhaps its an online gaming community with large teams or guilds, then I could see that mediation might be an important part of both keeping some degree of order, and keeping some degree of conflict which would keep the game interesting. Think of them as the referee or umpire in sports. In such a case, I would probably create a totally separate role of "mediator" or "ombudsman" whose powers relate only to in-community capabilities. Depending on the rules of the community, it may or may not be optional to invoke the mediator or referee.

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  • I apologize, I assumed it was clear from the question, but the question's scope was specifically situations where the moderator is clearly an un-involved 3rd party. E.g. two users talking at each other, and seemingly talking past each other, which appears to be escalating into a needless conflict. The assumption here is that "the good of the community" probably - if not certainly - involves quelling the conflict if possible, which IRL mediation is a great tool for. – DVK Feb 4 '16 at 14:55
  • I'm not sure this really changes my answer. What you are asking basically is can a moderator act like a community manager and the answer is yes. It just depends on personality and relationships. If your community is large, maybe you need more leaders who focus on interpersonal relationships. If there are many moderators, then you can focus on relationships and others can do tasks involving use of authority. In such a case, being the moderator doesn't really matter. – Greg Chase Feb 6 '16 at 15:57

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